Steve's Herpetological Blog

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#SteveReviews: The Mating Game

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you’re probably aware of another new series that aired on BBC One narrated by Sir David Attenborough. This series is titled The Mating Game and as you can probably guess, is related to the variety of different strategies species use to find a mate. This is quite a unique topic for a wildlife documentary series, especially one that only has five episodes. From what I can tell, there isn’t a companion book, which again is unusual for an Attenborough series (my bookshelf can attest to that!) In a number of previous documentaries from all studios and producers, we’ve seen snippets of different mating strategies, with them mainly focussing on the raising of young or the general habits of a particular focal species. The Mating Game‘s five episodes are broken down into five different environments in which species live, demonstrating the diversity of solutions species have found to finding a mate. Most people ask biologists what the meaning of life is. In my mind, this quite complex question has a very simple answer. It’s to pass on your genes to the next generation, therefore, leaving a lasting impression within the population of your own species. Within the The Mating Game, viewers are shown the extraordinary lengths some species will go, to ensure that they are able to mate successfully, and that their genes are passed onto the next generation.

In recent times I’ve not really enjoyed the newer Attenborough series, as I feel they are dumbed down, rely too much on false jeopardy, and the right cinematography instead of relaying the ecology and conservation of a species. However, The Mating Game has flipped this paradigm on it’s head. There may still be some levels of anthropomorphism (which I guess is hard to avoid), there is a distinct lack of false jeopardy and pointless panoramic shots. The information provided by Sir David’s narration is still dumbed down to a certain extent but it is a vast improvement on what we’ve seen in recent years. There were a few times throughout where I felt that some additional explanation was needed, in order to help put some of the points he made into context. There is a common fallacy when communicating information (it is one I make all the time), that you believe your audience knows as much as you do, therefore your explanations are somewhat lukewarm, as you’ve missed vital information out. This is a real shame, as the series had all the promise of being true to form of the old Attenborough series such as The Trials of Life. Despite this, the series is still informative and a delight to watch. I’m extremely jealous of the film crew that managed to witness an explosive breeding event of frogs in the rainforests of South America.

As you can imagine, there are a number of different amphibians and reptiles features throughout the series, which made me quite happy. It’s always great to see the smaller and less charismatic species get some screen time. This also extends to fish and invertebrates, which are also often left in the shadow of mammals and birds. The final episode is possibly the best, even if I don’t agree with the use of giant pandas as a ‘conservation success’ story. Among other topics, Attenborough details how conservationists are helping to create biobanks of cryopreserved cells from endangered species, should we need them in the future. This arc also highlights the success of the black-footed ferret, a species recovered from just seven individuals. This means that all of the wild animals are extremely closely related, yet clones of a female that died in the 80s are being introduced to the population to help increase the genetic diversity. This may be cool but in my mind, it distracts the viewer from the need of urgent species conservation. After all, what’s the point of conserving them and their habitats if we can just create some new ones later on Jurassic Park style? This method of species recovery is an absolute last resort, not something that is carried out across the board. I’m worried that by putting as much emphasis on this point as possible (I agree it is important to highlight), it may be inadvertently creating a sense of apathy towards current conservation efforts in viewers. It’s always important to remember what your messages are, and how people will perceive them.

If you’ve sat down to watch The Mating Game, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.

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